Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar and producer partner Ronnie Lahiri were in conversation with Smriti Kiran during their masterclass at the ongoing 52nd edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI). The topic of discussion revolved around the duo’s recent, critically acclaimed film, ‘Sardar Udham’, starring Vicky Kaushal. Shoojit and Ronnie, in the course of the session that lasted over an hour, discussed the nuances of their passion project, which was released on Amazon Prime Video, and what went into creating it without compromising their creative vision for the story. The producer-director jodi decoded the project bit by bit for a packed hall, brimming with film patrons, students and the media.
One of the highlights of their conversation was the recreation of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 for the film, which was shot over 22 days with local artistes, prosthetic dummies and why it was placed at the end of the movie. “All the moments you see in the Jallianwala Bagh sequence are real and drawn from survivor stories. Few things were fictionalised but not much. I have chased the people and I have got the details from them. We had many debates over where we must place the Jallianwala Bagh sequence in the film. Our idea, and writers Shubhendu and Ritesh’s thought was about what we would like people to take home from the movie. I didn’t want them to take home Sardar Udham Singh or even Bhagat Singh for that matter. I wanted them to take Jallianwala Bagh with them. In fact, I have received complaints from people that the sequence is too long and how people have chosen to switch off the movie there. I have told them that they can do what they wish to but for me, it was important that they take home Jallianwala Bagh. With that sequence, you take home everything. That sequence was depicting the fulcrum of our freedom movement at that time. Everything changed after that. It was a sign of the colonial powers’ barbarism. I am happy I could depict it without a compromise.”
Ronnie and Shoojit had arrived in Mumbai from Delhi about two decades ago to make a movie on Shaheed Bhagat Singh. But they were forced to drop the idea, which laid the foundation for a movie on Sardar Udham Singh. Talking about it, Shoojit said, “We came to Mumbai to make a film on Bhagat Singh but when we saw that there was a surge of Bhagat Singh films, we decided to shift our focus to Sardar Udham Singh. At that time, we started studying his life, and everything else that happened around the time. Making the movie on our terms was not easy but we had to find a way. We kept nurturing the film for 20 years. When you have an idea and you keep working on it, you start getting tight on the thoughts that you will play on. Like the Bhagat Singh you saw in the film is the Bhagat Singh I wanted to depict in my film on him.”
While making a biopic, it’s essential to understand what the filmmaker chose to keep and what he chose to eliminate. We posed the question to Shoojit about this, with respect to Sardar Udham. He said, “I think that is what took us so long to script. We invested about 5 years to write the film. I also wanted to include what happened on the night before the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. While the foreign audience was watching the film, I was wondering if they’d know who Bhagat Singh was, what the Rowlatt Act was and what had really happened the night before the massacre. I was worried that they may not be able to comprehend what happened and why. I wanted to include all the contexts for every character but maybe now I will do it in a series or something.”